In his new collection of personal essays, Davy Rothbart spends most of his time drinking, traveling, drinking, adventuring — mostly in a quest to find the perfect woman — and drinking some more.
Despite the repetition, Rothbart, a short story writer and creator of Found magazine, is funny enough to keep you laughing, and he occasionally shares an especially sad moment. I really felt for Davy as he searched for his soul mate. And I hoped some of his adventures might work out. But sometimes I wanted to hit Davy upside his head and knock some sense into him.
Usually with a beer, scotch, or tequila in hand or not far away, Rothbart hunts for a “Tessa,” his first love in high school, or a “Shade,” a movie character whom Rothbart searches for in real life. On other days, he finds himself drawn to pretty waitresses, strippers, concierges, and anyone working for tips. He adores pretty female writers, artists, and professional women. Pretty much every pretty woman.
But somehow women are always dumping Davy.
In “How I Got These Boots,” he talks about his “wrecked heart”: One of Rothbart’s girlfriends left him and moved to Scotland, and he didn’t date or kiss another girl for two years. He tried to break the drought by flying to Phoenix to see a woman, the captain of the NBA Phoenix Suns dance team. After he arrives, he learns she’s found a new boyfriend, an NFL punter. In “Canada or Bust,” Rothbart is in a bar called Hyde Lounge on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. He has impressed beautiful young blond Missy Stone by getting on the Hyde list, and she’s thrilled to go there with him. Unfortunately, Missy dumps him as soon as she spots her old boyfriend at the bar, and Rothbart is left downing shots with a Spanish basketball star.
But Rothbart isn’t always the one being dumped. In “Shade,” he needs that punch upside his head. He travels to Arizona to meet Sarah, a woman with whom he’s had a promising relationship over the phone. But when he meets her, he faces a “plain looking stranger.’’ She’s clearly in love with him, though, and Rothbart considers trying to make it work. Eventually, though, he is left seeking a way to let her down easy. A pint of Dewar’s might help.
It eventually becomes apparent that Rothbart is his own worst romantic enemy. Take Missy. Remember her? Rothbart gets used by Missy not just that time at the bar but again later on a road trip north, and still his “tenderness for her grew.” In another piece, he falls in love in an instant (in an Albuquerque airport) with Kara, whom he speaks to but never hears from again.
“Tarantula” finds Rothbart struggling with loyalty: Despite having a girlfriend whom he loves and who loves him, he has a ferocious one-night stand with an old neighbor, Kori, who likewise has a fiance. Things take a scary turn when they find a dead man in the pool.
It’s amazing that a man who drinks so much is so often conscious enough to write, but read his stuff; he may seem a little lost, but he’s a funny guy. In the end, these essays are not really intended to teach us — or Rothbart — anything important about love or life. They are, instead, a showcase for Rothbart’s brand of “On the Road’’ storytelling, one in which we can find bits of ourselves in surprising places.Joseph Peschel, a freelance writer and critic in South Dakota, can be reached at joe@joseph
peschel.com or through his blog at josephpeschel.com.